Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County Board members have narrowly rejected a plan to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue.
Tuesday night's 13-to-10 committee of the whole vote followed another backing the long-debated extension of Olympian itself. But opponents felt plans for the 'green route' or north-south 'S' curve connecting Lincoln to Olympian would impact too many landowners, with no guarantee the route would lure industry. Republican Alan Nudo favors further research, with those residents involved.
"I'm all for Urbana having commercial-industrial in this area, because that's what it's going to be," Nudo said. "It's in a mile and a half, and I think it's a fait accompli. But we need to take care of the residents in there, and do it right."
Nudo said a new phase of research will provide options, and enable for compromise.
Democrat Tom Betz said it is hard to disagree with those arguments and side with economic interests, but he supported the plan.
"We are creating an artery, and method by which development can take place," Betz said. "But I think it is more likely to happen as a result of this than if we do nothing. Right now, Olympian Drive kind of is a road to nowhere. The county needs some economic development. It's not just the city of Urbana."
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she hasn't given up on the green option, and could return to the county board in two weeks. She said she wants to develop some cost estimates for an altered plan, but won't start over from scratch.
"We''ll modify what things cost, but we're not prepared to say 'we need to spend $170,000 (on a new study)," Prussing said. "What this is really - we can't find perfect. And sometimes, my philosophy is, you just gotta settle for excellent."
A study of options to the west would take 18 months. Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue said consultants can estimate the cost of some new alignments. But he said a new study should start by April, or the Olympian Drive project could risk losing the $15-million in state and federal money.
There's another delay in litigation over O'Hare International Airport expansion that pits United and American airlines against the city of Chicago.
A statement Friday from United Airlines and American says a new five-day delay will give the parties more time to resolve their differences over the financing and timing of construction of new runways and other improvements at O'Hare.
It says the latest delay comes at the request of U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency has been trying to mediate an agreement.
On Thursday, the sides asked a judge to lift a one-week delay on hearing the airlines' lawsuit that opposes the issuing of bonds for the expansion.
Mayor Richard Daley has accused the airlines of reneging on their promise in 2001 to help see through the overhaul of O'Hare.
Imagine riding in a car with a license plate that has an advertisement tacked on promoting a restaurant, soft drink, or sports team. Well, that may become a reality in Illinois.
One Chicago Democrat has introduced legislation designed to create corporate-sponsored license plates to generate revenue. It is part of an effort to help plug the state's $15 billion budget deficit.
"It's not a novel idea to have advertising on certain stadiums, or buses, or somewhere," State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) said. "But we need to start thinking of other ways to generate revenue that's going to keep recurring year after year."
The plan would give motorists the option of purchasing cheaper license plates with the advertisements. Companies interested in promoting their business would make up the cost difference, and pay an additional amount. The money would go to the state and a contractor overseeing the program, but it's unclear how much money both sides would get.
"If we took a million people that wanted to be engaged in this program, and if the state were to say get $10 a plate, it could be an additional $10 million a year," Mulroe said.
Mulroe calls this a "win-win" for the entire state because taxes would not go up, and Illinois would generate more revenue.
Texas is currently the only state to sell corporate license plates. Other states including Florida, Nebraska, and Virginia have looked at similar proposals.
(Photo courtesy of CyberDrive Illinois)
The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.
Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.
Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.
"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."
But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.
Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.
"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."
Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.
Mitsubishi Motors North America said Friday that it will begin production of a new SUV crossover at its plant in Normal, Illinois next year, promising to keep the facility open less than a month after its 1,100 union employees agreed to wage concessions.
The state of Illinois said it will give the company $29 million in tax incentives as it begins production of the new Outlander Sport.
The new vehicles, which Mitsubishi started making late last year, will replace four existing models now made at the Normal plant that will be phased out, Mitsubishi Motors North America President Shinichi Kurihara said Friday at the plant.
"Mitsubishi Motors remains fully committed to producing vehicles in Normal," he said. "We will build vehicles here not just for the United States, but for many nations around the world."
Mitsubishi has said the new model is part of its worldwide efforts to rejuvenate sales. It plans to produce the vehicle for North America as well as emerging markets such as Brazil and India.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who was with Kurihara at a news conference, said the state agreed to the incentives to help keep the plant - one of the largest employers in the Bloomington-Normal area - open.
"Mitsubishi's decision to produce a new generation of automobile here in Illinois is a strong testament to the strength of our work force and the state's appealing business climate," Quinn said.
The facility's union workers recently agreed to cut their pay by $1.67 an hour, a concession Mitsubishi said it needed to keep the plant open. In all the plant employs 1,300 people, about half of whom commute from surrounding communities and as far away as Peoria and Champaign, the company has said.
The plant now makes the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle. All four will be phased out over the next few years.
Emergency crews in Illinois spent all day Wednesday helping stranded motorists and clearing snow-covered roads following this week's large blizzard.
The state police and the Illinois Department of Transportation restricted access to certain parts of major interstates, so that crews could do their job. But by the end of the day, just about everything that was restricted was re-opened, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The only area still closed off to non-emergency vehicles is I-55 at Lakeshore Drive.
"If you do have to go out, make sure you have that survival kit in your car," Thompson said. "If you do get stranded out there, it could still be a while before someone could be there to assist you."
While the snow is being cleared, it is going to be dangerously cold on Thursday. People are encouraged to drive with a cell phone, bottled water, food, flashlight, and a blanket.
Conditions are improving along county roads in Champaign County, but authorities still say traveling is not a good idea.
Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says highway crews stopped plowing overnight because of low visibility but resumed before dawn. Since then, he says they've made headway on most primary county highways despite high winds.
"As soon as those die down, the crews can clean things up quicker, and we should be in fairly good shape by tomorrow morning," Keller said. "We'd still like to deter people from being out. Number one, it's not really safe, and number two, it gives our crews a better chance to get stuff cleaned up without all that traffic out there."
Keller says any drifting is happening mainly on east-west roads. He says thanks to light traffic, they've not had to rescue many stranded motorists on county roads.
Illinois State Police say state highway conditions in East Central Illinois were improving late this morning, but they don't stay that way for long due to blowing and drifting.
Sergeant Bill Emery says most of the 17 accidents handled by troopers since early this morning have occurred on Interstate 57 between Mattoon and Rantoul, but he says only one of them resulted in minor injuries. They've also responded to more than 100 vehicles in ditches. But Emery says US Route 150 between Mahomet and Mansfield is impassable, as is Route 128 north of Shelbyville.
He says anyone leaving the house for even a minor errand needs to prepare as if they were taking a road trip. "Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car before you take off, even if it's just to the store," Emery warned.. "If you look up in the Chicago area, there were many people along Lake Shore Drive who were in traffic for hours due to what was happening maybe just a mile ahead of them, like a crash, and (they were) running out of gas."
Emery says troopers are relocating stranded motorists, but they shouldn't expect their vehicles to be towed for two to three days because of the weather and road conditions.
A legal dispute between the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (C-U MTD) and the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District (CSWMTD) is a step closer to heading to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The C-U MTD board voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal a ruling by the Fourth District Appellate Court stating that the two transit districts can share boundaries.
The CSWMTD was approved by voters in 2006 as a response to the C-U MTD annexing property in Southwest Champaign. Voters wanted to prevent C-U MTD service from coming into certain neighborhoods. Some people who live where the two transit districts overlap pay property taxes for both services, even though the CSWMTD provides no transit service.
"We don't think that Illinois law permits double taxation for identical services," C-U MTD attorney Marc Ansel said. "There have been cases in Illinois involving identical local governments seeking to tax and service the same territory, and the supreme court of Illinois we believe has said that can't be done in the state of Illinois."
Ansel said he hopes the Illinois Supreme Court will decide to hear the case within a couple of months. He said if that happens, oral arguments could begin later this year.
Meanwhile, the CSWMTD board voted to appeal the appellate court's ruling earlier this month also stating that residents should not have to pay higher taxes for two transit services. If there is a final court decision, CSWMTD Chairman Ed Vaughan acknowledges that his group may have to come to a decision about whether to actually provide bus service.
"We've been recognizing that we've got that coming for quite some time, and every one of us pondering exactly what we think we ought to do," Vaughan said. "And we will have that discussion.
Mitsubishi Motors North America plans to produce a new model at its plant in Normal, Ill., extending the life of the facility just a month after employees agreed to lower wages the company said were needed to keep it open.
Mitsubishi announced the plans as part of new, global business plan aimed at revitalizing the troubled Japanese automaker.
"One of the main pillars of this (plan) is a transition from region-specific models with all of the specifics that entails - producing for a single market, single group of consumers, a single economy - to more global models that are produced for multiple markets," Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said. "And the new model will be one of those global models."
The company plans to announce what the new model will be in the next few weeks, he said, but all four models now made at the central Illinois plant - the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle - will be phased out.
Employees and local officials at the plant said they're still waiting for details on the new model and to learn whether it will keep all 1,300 plant employees on the job. But the news that one of the largest and highest-paying area employers will stay open was a relief.
"These jobs are very hard to come by and, again, particularly in this economy when most companies of this nature are just hoping to sustain their current employment levels," city manager Mark Peterson said. "These would be, I hate to say impossible, but almost impossible to replace."
The United Auto Workers said Mitsubishi's announcement was a just reward for tough pay concessions its members had little choice but to accept.
"Considering the economy, the state of the economy right now, I think the decision was pretty clear for a majority of the members," UAW local President Ralph Timan said. "It was a tough decision, and it came with sacrifices."
Two-thirds of the union's almost 1,100 members at the plant voted last month to cut a reported $1.67 an hour from their wages after the company said it needed the concessions to remain competitive.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said at the time that it was talking with Mitsubishi about possible incentives. The agency and company continue to talk but so far no tax breaks or other incentives have been provided spokesman Mike Claffey said.
Like the auto industry in general, Mitsubishi North America has struggled with slow sales. The company's U.S. market share for 2009 was just over one half of one percent - the lowest level since 1985, according to WardsAuto.com, a web site that tracks auto industry data.
The company's new business plan, which it calls Jump 2013, is aimed at producing more vehicles to sell in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. The goal, according to a company release, is to raise sales to 1.37 million vehicles in 2013 from the roughly 1 million it expects it will sell by the end of the current fiscal year in March.
The Normal plant started making the Gallant and the other three models it now manufactures in 2005, Irvin said.
"They've been very good to us for a very long time," he said.
The plant at one point employed far more workers, but 1,200 were laid off in 2004 as part of what Mitsubishi said at the time was its last chance for survival. Those layoffs have been followed by other wage and benefit concessions.
Peterson said Thursday that he's anxiously waiting for details about what the company's new model will mean for job numbers at the 22-year-old plant.
"The questions is: Now that's one model - is that going to sustain all 1,100 existing jobs, and could it mean more out there?" he said.
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